Review: The South Beach Diet
Although the South Beach Diet has been causing quite a stir recently, it’s really not anything new… unless you happen to be Rip Van Winkle, and have been sleeping for the last 20 years-straight though the whole “low carb” craze!
The South Beach diet is simply a slightly modified, somewhat more “friendy” version of the popular Atkins diet. And although author Dr. Arthur Agatston’s first words is that the South Beach diet “is not low carb”, there is little doubt that it is.
If you’re not familiar with how and why low carb diets work (i.e., by re-establishing the body’s sensitivity to insulin by the elimination of high glycemic carbohydrates), please read this article. You’ll find it helpful for getting the most out of any of our low carb diet reviews.
The main difference between the Atkins diet and the South Beach diet is that the South Beach diet restricts the saturated fats that the Atkins diet recommends. On the Atkins diet, for instance, you’ll cook your morning eggs in butter. On the South Beach diet, you’ll use a cooking spray, or a little olive oil. The South Beach restricts saturated fats, and instead, focuses on heart healthy fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well as fish fats.
While this makes the South Beach Diet easier for the general public and medical professionals to swallow, it’s also a very valid point; there is much merit in supplementing with fish fat and monounsaturated fats (like peanut and olive oils), and fresh, unrefined omega 3-6-9 fatty acids. The health benefits of these oils are as extensive as they are documented.
The South Beach diet also places greater emphasis (in the earliest stages at least), on the consumption of fibrous fruit and vegetables.
The other major difference between these two diets is the relatively low caloric intake of the South Beach diet. While the Atkins diet does not even suggest moderation (thank heavens!), the South Beach diet’s daily meal plans clock in around the 1200-1500 calorie mark. Sure, Dr. Agatston says you should never be hungry on the South Beach diet. Yeah, right! If you follow the meal plans to the letter, I can guarantee you will definitely be hungry.
Like most low carb diets, the South Beach diet consists of several Phases…
- Phase I: All moderate-to-high glycemic carbohydrates are completely eliminated from the diet. That means breads, buns, sweets, refined grains, most fruits, and so on. This period is intended to last 2 weeks.
- Phase II: Moderate to high glycemic foods are very slowly introduced back into the diet. You may wish to add one slice of bread and one piece of fruit per day to start. Phase II of the diet may last for a year or more, depending on the amount of weight you need to lose.
- Phase III: The most liberal part of the diet, where even more carbs are allowed. Although Dr. Agatston says “anything goes” in Phase III, the meal plans reveal that certainly isn’t the case. While more carbs are allowed into the diet, this is not intended to be a return to the eating habits that got you in this mess in the first place.
If you’re familiar with low carb dieting, you’ll recognize this is all pretty standard. Nothing out of the ordinary here, despite the fact the marketing gurus are spinning this as the diet you can stay on for life. If that weren’t enough, there are some pretty ridiculous things said in the South Beach diet…
“Lose belly fat first”: There’s no clinical validation of this statement, and not surprisingly; spot reduction is not possible-you cannot control the areas from which fat is burned on your body by eating a certain way, or exercising in a certain manner. This is a common and completely unfounded myth.
“Lose 8-13 pounds in the first two weeks”: Yeah, you can lose that much, but it will be largely comprised of lost water weight, caused by the diuretic effect of carbohydrates. You will not be dramatically “less fat” than you were two weeks earlier.
“You won’t be hungry”: If you are hungry and need a snack, just count out 15 cashews, says Dr. Arthur Agatston.
If you follow the meal plans outlined in the South Beach, you won’t be hungry – you’ll be ravenous. They average out at about 1200 – 1500 calories per day. That’s pretty low, low enough to threaten the lean muscle mass that is critical to an elevated metabolism. If you’re going to experiment with this diet, forget the scale, and start tracking your bodyfat percentage and lean muscle mass.
Despite this bit of silliness, the South Beach diet is a pretty decent read. Dr. Agatston talks respectfully of Dr. Atkins, as well as Dr. Ornish and Nathan Pritikin (both low fat, high carb advocates), and outlines the various flaws in each gurus respective diet. He outlines the work of Dr. Ansel Keys, and the work that led to the establishing of the flawed carbohydrate-heavy food pyramid. There’s a great quote here as well…
“I was taught in medical school that the only bad effects of sugars was tooth decay”.
Other than the extremely low calorie, “one-size-fits-all” meal plans, and little less protein consumption than I’d like to see, the underlying theory of the South Beach is sound. For the most part, it’s a common sense, smart eating plan. While I would suggest a couple of modifications to this diet to protect against the loss of critical lean tissue, the South Beach diet is a good step down the road towards the establishing of smart and sensible eating habits.